June the 7th, 2014, walk a mile hits the road again just outside Caernarfon.
But what does that mean?
On a personal level it means a bald middle aged ex social worker with a mental health problem, carrying more weight than he’d like, is walking around the edge of the UK with no money – talking to anyone he meets to highlight the experiences of folk with mental maladies in an attempt to reduce the stigma of…
But is that enough?
It’s all well and good saying I have a mental health problem and what it means to me and the folk around me.
I can reduce it further – talking about how a mixture of personal experiences and wonky wiring fed off each other to produce – what? A mental illness? A label? Someone who requires medication and management to ensure…?
But that’s just my story.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve said this, but it’s worth restating – 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem at some point; suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35 in the UK. In the years of austerity the number of people taking their own lives has increased by about 20% to over 6 thousand a year on our fair island.
But what does that mean? The impact on the individual from their mental health problem is often clear – the pain – the anguish – the suffering that’s often intolerable.
But what about the friends and family of that individual? That impact easily doubles, possibly trebles across society.
What about in the workplace? I know that when I took lengthy periods off work as a social worker, the pressure of an already stressful job was increased for my colleagues as they picked up my slack.
Some disability act or other states that ‘reasonable adjustments’ must be made in the workplace to improve the lot of your disabled person.
Apart from a phased – not to be confused with a fazed – return to work, I’m buggered if I know what those reasonable adjustments could have been for me.
That would pick up the slack. Perhaps alleviate some of the guilt I felt about being off work?
Costly, springs to mind.
That’s one of many reasons as to why many employers are reluctant to employ your average loon.
That and ignorance, prejudice and rather random discrimination.
In reality it’s a lose, lose situation.
Employers are missing out on great employees, and folk with mental maladies are missing out on a fundamental human right.
So waddya gonna do?
Lying at the application stage has been encouraged by many.
Once you’ve got the job, you can be as honest as you like because it’s against the law for your employer to sack you purely because of your mental malady.
That approach plays Hell with workplace trust though.
Never mind, we have a benefits system that looks after people who find themselves stuck.
Google ATOS, workplace assessments, workfare, Iain Duncan Smith, Universal Credit…to get an overall feel for the situation.
It’s a fucking mess.
Regardless of your political standpoint, it’s still a fucking mess.
There are thousands of folk with mental health problems who are only in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance – a massive £57.35 a week.
Reports show that people with mental health problems are more likely to be sanctioned – have their benefits stopped for anything up to 3 years.
How can that be?
Not to worry, there are mental health services out there to diagnose, treat and support us at those times when our minds slip a gear.
Well, hmmm, let’s see…
Yes, I’m restating it, but if you have a physical health problem you are guaranteed that treatment by the NHS will start within 18 weeks of your diagnosis.
Sure, they will go over that time occasionally, but then they are in breach of their contract with you as a patient.
If you have a mental health problem, there is no guarantee.
Which means there are people with diagnosed mental health problems who receive no treatment at all, with all the repercussions you can imagine.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, NICE, have guidelines stating that folk with mental health problems should have a choice in the treatment they receive.
Note the words ‘guidelines’ and ‘should’.
The system lacks teeth.
What about social work? Well, approved social workers in England and Wales – these are called Mental Health Officers in Scotland – are a major part of the sectioning process.
A system that came about to ensure the safety of your mental health punter who is a risk to themselves or others.
Other, adult services, social workers are being encouraged to give service users their own budgets to pay for care and support.
Consider this an area that’s under development.
If we think of a woman, who is regularly sectioned, being awarded a budget of £15 per week in lieu of care and support, it’s easy to see that this is a system that requires tweaking.
We have primary health care, GP’s and Community Psychiatric Nurses trying to manage this tsunami of need – secondary care – hospital beds – accident and emergency – are also being cut back.
A group who represent over 25% of illness – who secure a mere 13% of the NHS budget are having these services cutback more than other areas of health need.
There are times when there are no acute psychiatric beds available in the country.
The crisis in our mental health services really is that bad.
We have primary care protecting their budgets, the same applies to social work, secondary care and now, tragically, the voluntary sector – instead of working together, budgets are being guarded greedily as managers are rewarded for defending their own particular silos.
We have Norman Lamb, the minister who’s in charge of all this saying something must be done, when he’s the guy who should be doing it.
In other news we have prisons being referred to as ‘Asylums’ as more and more people with mental health problems are being incarcerated – very likely related to the absence of support and services elsewhere.
War veterans with mental health problems are on the increase – more presenting with post traumatic stress syndrome, as homeless…
People in work, firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, social workers and others all have access to counselling and other psychological therapies and yet they go underused because of the fear of the effect a loony/ stress label may have on their career.
In a world where, on the surface, it appears we’re talking more about mental health, the stigma of a label is more than many are willing to risk.
This is a multifaceted issue – it’s not just my problem – it’s not only the concern of service users and professionals.
I cannot stress enough that this effects you, me and everyone you know.
We need to talk – all of us. We need organisations to talk. To blend – to meld.
We need to talk with people who don’t use the same language as us. We need to not take offence.
Psychiatry needs to speak to psychology – both need to speak with punters, everyone needs to speak with social workers and GP’s…you get the picture – everybody needs to speak with everyone.
If people say loony, crazy, mental schmental radio rental we need to talk with them – we are all in this together.
No, really, we are.
I’ll be talking to loons, to professionals, to carers, to friends, to family, to folk doing sit ins, to folk getting services, to folk not getting services, to employers and employees, to politicians and voters…and to people who might offer me a bed for the night.
What will you do?
Walk a mile